What’s in your soap?

A few weeks ago I was listening to an episode of the Rework podcast titled Lab Week.

At [00:02:23] I heard this:

We three live together and we just liked trying things out and one day we needed soap. We kind of looked it up and we’re like, well, how is soap made? And did a lot of research and figured out that a lot of soap is made with animal fats. Beef fat or even pork fat. And it’s not usually obvious in the ingredient list, but there’s like sodium tallowate, which is very common in a lot of mass-produced soaps. And we’re all Muslims and we also happen to be vegan too. And so we just really didn’t like the idea of like rubbing those animal ingredients all over our bodies.

This naturally made me curious to check if the soap I rub everyday over my body has this disgusting ingredient. I checked today and relieved to find this:

I think it is worth a few minutes of your time to Google and make sure your soap is free of stuff that you may not want to apply on your body.

A debate between Matt M and DHH

Recently REWORK podcast recorded and published a fascinating debate between the two people I admire and respect, Matt Mullenweg and DHH, about tech monopolies and the power of the open-source.

Open Source and Power with Matt Mullenweg and DHH

I look forward to another show on Venture Capital and funding. Hopefully, they are able to record it sooner!

The enemy is within

Many years ago I read this essay titled Why overachievers go down the path of self-destruction written by Subroto Bagchi.

Although I am far from being an overachiever, that post has helped me become aware of some of the mistakes driven people make. It is probably one of the earliest materials from where I learned the importance of humility, self-awareness and disassociating myself from my successes.

The other reason why this article stuck to my mind for years is that I am fearful of giving in to distractions and temptations life throws at me from time to time. It is hard to be vigilant even with all the awareness. But by trying to be aware, I am hoping to improve my odds of making better choices in the critical areas of my life.

I reproduced this article here just in case the original one gets lost in the interwebs.

Why overachievers go down the path of self-destruction

Life does not place hurdles in the way of an overachiever. Instead, life uses distractions

For many years now, I have been studying overachievers in the professional world; these are people who have high IQ, eminent qualifications, experience, the power of an early start and quite often, very supportive families. You think they are God’s chosen ones and there is no stopping how far they may go. Then one morning you wake up to find the angel fall. Actually, it is not a fall, it is invariably a crash; only splinters remain where once stood a David by Michelangelo. How does that happen? Who kills the angel? I have come to believe that in most such cases, there is no external enemy. Only ordinary people need an external enemy. The overachiever is his best friend and his worst enemy. This probably is life’s way to ensure that we do not become immortal. Its secrets are probably stored in the DNA as much as it is a function of how the neo-cortex responds to the environment.

Sometimes I imagine the image of the double-helix structure of the DNA; it depicts who we are and has a microcode flowing from time immemorial to make me who I am; a microcode not of the Karma, but the decisional rules we may exercise or fail to exercise when temptation strikes. The double helix structure suggests boundless possibilities as one of the two sides of the ladder—self-destruction is the other side. For the overachiever, it is difficult to balance the two and only the self-aware among them are able to balance between them. The self-aware know that at any point in time, they are a few steps, sometimes a few minutes away from a fall. Destruction of great capability does not take a lifetime or for that matter, hours. More often than not, it is just a moment of indiscretion.

Seven minutes of pleasure brought Bill Clinton, the most powerful man in the world at the time, to rank ordinariness. That angel fell like porcelain on marble. What happened to Strauss-Kahn? Wasn’t he the man who was expected to bring Europe back from the brink of disaster? Theirs are not instances of sexual proclivity. Under the surface, it is the double helix saying, ‘come die’.

It is very interesting that life does not place hurdles in the way of an overachiever. Hurdles are actually life’s gym equipment meant to improve the muscle tone and help one deal with more. Instead of hurdles, life uses distractions. There are mythical evidences galore that tell us how the Gods try the final distraction of womanhood, the origin of all power, to destabilise and destroy the one who is climbing to the peak. But they use other distractions as well. Satyam did not need competition to hurt the company, its founder hurt Satyam. His one moment of distraction—the first fudged financial statement—opened window upon window of progressive death until one day, the porcelain doll crashed into a thousand splintered pieces. The same thing happened with SKS and now OnMobile.

The overachiever doesn’t exactly die after each such incident, not at least in a physical sense. What dies is the reputation capital. Then they, and sympathetic onlookers, explain away by saying, the overachiever was drawn into indiscretion. That there was an external reason that caused the behaviour. It is just a convenient deflection. One of the earliest examples of such deflection is in the story of the sage, Valmiki. He was a bandit who slaughtered passers-by and ran away with their belongings. His justification for the brutality: He had to provide for his family. This continued until his wife rejected that intellectual construct. She told him that he and he alone had chosen his path and was responsible for the consequences.

Unlike Valmiki, today’s high achievers, businessmen to bureaucrats, sports persons to politicians, deflect. There is none to tell them that they are deflecting. They say they are doing it all for the sake of others, because of external reasons. When you are doping to win a medal for the country, when you are accepting cash for the party and not yourself or when you fudge accounts to protect the so-called interests of the shareholder, you are just kidding yourself. You are doing it for yourself. You are failing in the face of temptation. You are just an accidental success that life now must kill.
You have overstayed your welcome.

That brings us to a fundamental question. Why can’t these people, gifted in every other way, get it? Why do they lose common sense? Why don’t they follow the simple precepts we were all taught as children? That we should not tell a lie, we should not take what does not belong to us, that hard work must give us the fruits of labour? That we should be nice and polite to others and most importantly, look before you leap.

I always think that there is no greater set of governance rules than the Ten Commandments. For each indiscretion of a Martha Stewart or our homemade Telecom Raja, there is a matching, simple commandment that would have helped them reach the Hall of Fame. Instead, they all go over the precipice. The fall is invariably a one-way drop.

Overachievers are very vulnerable people at one level. They can suffer from sensory failure when they can least afford it. From the CEO to the doorman, we are all factory fitted with the same five sensory organs. How we deploy them and when we suspend them, is a matter of personal choice and that in turn, is influenced by the degree of an individual’s self-awareness. That is how the seemingly invincible individual one day fails to hear, fails to see what is evident to you and I. If you do risky lending, you may not get your money back. If you pick up a one-night stand, a page 3 columnist may see you. If you accept a bribe once, the bribe giver may invite himself to your home, he may touch your wife in front of you and call her his sister. Inability to see all this coming is sensory failure.

Sometimes it is not a one-man disaster. An overachiever in the company of another has often suffered from false harmony; has failed to ask critical questions and suspended the responsibility of dissent. This has perpetuated in history from the Bay of Pigs to Satyam where highly accomplished individuals dug a collective grave.

So, what can we all do to save ourselves from the danger that is lurking within us? How can we circumnavigate a temptation? Life asks for mastery over the self, it does not want to dole that capability to everyone. That mastery is granted in small and slow measures to those who practice humility. Humility reduces the noises in the head and silences us. In that silence we listen better, we are able to see, hear, taste, smell and touch what can be potentially toxic. Life invariably shows us a yellow card; thinking that it is green is optional.

Overachievers that run the course are conscious to disassociate themselves from their personal success. They tell you that they were lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Ask any great maestro and she would deflect her success to her Guru’s teaching and his infinite patience. As much in the corporate world as outside, sustained overachievers take their success as a responsibility; as a burden, not an entitlement. Therein lies the capacity to keep the feet firm on the ground even as the eyes are set on the peak.

(This story originally appeared in the 03 August, 2012 issue of Forbes India.)

Twitter’s half-truth about its app settings

Bill Bennett, a local technology journalist I respect, tweeted a CNN Business article about Twitter’s overzealous algorithm.

That article quoted a Twitter spokesperson:

… We will continue to work to improve our efforts here, and people always have the option of turning off our curation if they just want to see content from the people they follow.

This quote is sketchy and only half-true.

The other half-truth, which this Twitter spokesperson did not say, is that although you can turn off curation, on the phone app Twitter turns it back on within a few days without your consent. The settings on my web app are untouched though, which is likely what this well-meaning spokesperson has quoted.

If you really want to improve your efforts here, Twitter, stop changing your users’ app settings and start respecting their preferences.

And definitely educate your spokesperson with your phone app’s hidden features as well, so they can share accurate information about your platform.

Reblog: Short Money Rules

I feel like I am becoming tad wiser these days by reading Morgan Housel’s Collaborative Fund blog. This list of 29 Short Money Rules is one such gem I read on this blog today.

A few rules that stood out to me:

21. Being nice to people is the easiest career competitive advantage.

22. Being smarter than others is the hardest.

Choose wisely!

Then there is this rule that I liked:

2. Most people are afraid of looking wrong.

I think not worrying too much about my ego, always being open to feedback and iteration are what makes me unafraid of looking wrong.

As an aside, if you have more time, I highly encourage you read The Psychology of Money post on this blog. It is a long and interesting read. I first found it in my colleague Jeremey’s newsletter and have read it three or four times since. I am sure I will read it a few more times. It is such a good analysis of human psychology and behaviour.

Three foundational skills everyone needs to get ahead in life

Over the past few years, the following foundational skills have helped me shape my career. I am not going to perfect them anytime soon but I think I don’t have to. I believe these skills takes life-long practice and I really don’t want to get done with them. I think it would be silly of me to think that someday I will master them all. I probably won’t. But by simply being aware and practicing them, I feel like I can adopt growth mindset and get better in my life and career.


Regardless of what I do, being indistracable and being able to focus on the task at hand for longer periods of time is a great skill. It is hard; if it isn’t everyone would do it. Being able to focus gives me a great competitive advantage, so I think it is very well worth learning how to be focussed. I learned that even a few focus blocks each week makes me  highly productive and effective. Having said this, it is really hard. I fail more often than I would like to believe. But that’s the challenge I signed up for.


Willingness to ask and accept feedback without getting defensive is another essential skill to develop. It sounds simple. But being told on the face that you have a lot of room for improvement —which is generally true in most cases— is inconvenient and deeply cuts through my most precious possession called ego. But however harsh it may sound,  feedback on how I can improve is exactly what I need to get ahead. So I consider feedback as a gift. To get ahead in life, I need tough love, not being told how awesome I am. That’s why I am always open for feedback.

Flip-flop and iterate

It takes a lot of courage to be comfortable with changing my mind and ideas often. Everything around me is changing constantly. So should my ideas and opinions, I think. I am not obliged to stick with anything just because I felt certain way at certain point in time. Rather than being dogged about my ideas, I found that being open, adapting to feedback and iterating has helped me do cool things.

Can you think of any other skills that are useful regardless of what we do?

Next time I will share what I believe are foundational habits and how I learned about them.

Also, this is my first attempt with a cheesy clickbait title 😉

Be part of future of work

I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.

If the above lines resonate with you, come join us at Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, Jetpack, and WooCommerce.

We are always in need of great people to help us with our mission of making the web a better place.

While we are always hiring for many roles, I’d like to highlight my role, Happiness Engineer.

As a Happiness Engineer, like all the other roles, you’ll work full-time from your home (with salary and benefits) to help people with their websites and blogs. It’s helpful to have some familiarity with HTML, CSS, and WordPress. Critical is a genuine desire to help people. Apply by following the directions on our Jobs page: https://automattic.com/work-with-us/happiness-engineer/

It is not a traditional job. Working from home and importantly, working without supervision is not for everyone. But if you think you have what it takes and want to be part of the future or work, there is no better time than now to apply.

Tips for living a creative life

I found a post titled Fear is boring, and other tips for living a creative life which is apt for the creative challenge I am going through my life currently.

Via the following tweet:

Three ideas I learned from Derek Sivers

I learned three great ideas from Derek Sivers over the last couple of months. I am very grateful to Derek for the following ideas.

  1. Hell yeah or no.
  2. /now page.
  3. Mastering self and helping others.

Hell yeah or no

I came across Derek’s “Hell yeah or no” idea via Leo Babauta’s tweet.

I instantly liked it and started saying no to anything that is less than hell yeah. It has helped me focus on my priorities and say no to everything else.

/now page

Being part of Derek’s /now page movement and writing my /now page has helped me think what is important to me and write how I am spending my time. I read my /now page regularly to make sure I am spending my time on my priorities.

Mastering self and helping others

Derek recently shared this idea in this second episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. I strongly recommend you listen to it. I enjoyed the two-hour long first episode as well but if you have only little time, just listen to the second.

He shared this idea at 28:03 of the second follow-up episode when someone asked him how does he define success.

I am amazed by how most of the things I do – which you will find on my /now page – perfectly aligns to this philosophy.

Exercising, doing push ups, running are to master my body and be in shape. Meditating, playing Elevate, and eating healthy helps me master my mind.

I am here first to help and take care of my family. Thankfully they don’t take much of my time or help but I don’t think twice to drop everything else if they ever need me that much. Then, my day job and Chaitanya 3.0 project are too about helping people, learning new things, and solving others problems.

Thanks a lot Derek. Your ideas are  some of the best I learned in 2015. I am super excited to continue living them in 2016 and be more useful to others.

Understanding GTD

If you are keen to get better at achieving your goals in the new year, I suggest you check the free Get Stuff Done online course on YouTube.

This course teaches how to apply the famous GTD philosophy to our life. It was originally offered for a small fee but the nice fella, Tiago Forte of Skillshare has made it available for free on YouTube.  It is a series of short videos, all of them under fifteen minutes and only few of them are over ten minutes.

I did this course last year and learned a lot about how to organize myself. It has helped me build a Wunderlist based to-do list system that tells me the things I need to do everyday to make progress on my goals. I am doing this course again to strengthen my learning. It only takes at most fifteen minutes a day. Check it out.